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The university launched a pilot online service-learning program this summer with three students traveling to Costa Rica for learning, adventure, and exploration.

Diana Howell, a junior in political science and a Baker Scholar, was one of the students who spent the first part of her summer engaged in service-learning in Costa Rica as a part of the program. Howell averaged thirty hours per week of volunteer service at a non-government agency soliciting donations from abroad to fund election watchers for the next election cycle. Additionally, she spent two class hours per week in a classroom and completed the remaining academic component of the course online.

“The experience was great and I really enjoyed learning about Costa Rican culture,” said Howell. “It was interesting to see how a nonprofit functions abroad and the role they play in the policy-making process during my service-learning experience. It helped to have the course portion online for functionality purposes and to also have a way to set benchmarks for myself.”

Associate Professor of Spanish Millie Gimmel worked remotely in Knoxville with the three students during the program. She challenged the students with critical reflective readings to aid in their understanding of Costa Rica and the impact they were making through their service.

“A benefit of this program is that it provides students with the chance to be independent and learn how to work in an organization within another culture,” said Gimmel. “This experience allows students to learn more about culture and language within a foreign setting versus the typical study abroad experience.”

The program will be offered again during summer 2016 and plans to expand to other countries in summer 2017. The Programs Abroad Office is identifying faculty to participate in upcoming online service-learning programs.

“We have more than a thousand students participating in academic programs and internships abroad each year,” said Noah Rost, associate director for the Center for International Education. “Our hope is to expand this program to create an online global service-learning classroom where there are opportunities for UT students to participate in similar programs in places like Chile, South Africa, Jordan, and India.”

Students who are interested in participating in the summer 2016 program in Costa Rica should contact Millie Gimmel at The trip is open to all students who would like to receive a class credit in either Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures 300, Spanish 491, or Latin American/Caribbean Studies 491.

More information about UT’s programs abroad can be found on the Study Abroad website.